Shedding light on quality of care: a study protocol for a randomized trial evaluating the impact of the Solar Suitcase in rural health facilities on maternal and newborn care quality in Uganda

BMC Pregnancy Childbirth. 2019 Aug 22;19(1):306. doi: 10.1186/s12884-019-2453-x.


Background: Continued progress in reducing maternal and newborn morbidity and mortality in low-income countries requires a renewed focus on quality of delivery care. Reliable electricity and lighting is a cornerstone of a well-equipped health system, but most primary maternity care facilities in sub-Saharan Africa are either not connected to the electrical grid or suffer frequent blackouts. Lack of reliable electricity and light in maternity facilities may contribute to poor quality of both routine and emergency obstetric and newborn care, by hindering infection control, increasing delays in providing care, and reducing health worker morale. The "Solar Suitcase" is a solar electric system designed specifically for maternity care facilities in low-resource environments. The purpose of this trial is to evaluate the impact of the Solar Suitcase on reliability of light, quality of obstetric and newborn care, and health worker satisfaction.

Methods: We are conducting a study with 30 maternity care facilities in rural Uganda that lack access to a reliable, bright light source. The study is a stepped wedge cluster randomized controlled trial. Study facilities are identified according to predefined eligibility criteria, and randomized by blocking on baseline covariates. The intervention is a "Solar Suitcase", a complete solar electric system that provides essential lighting and power for charging phones and small medical devices. The primary outcomes are the reliability and quality of light during intrapartum care, the process quality of obstetric and newborn care, and health worker satisfaction. Outcomes will be assessed via direct clinical observation by trained enumerators (estimated n = 1980 birth observations), as well as interviews with health workers and facility managers. Lighting and blackouts will be captured through direct observation and via light sensors installed in facilities.

Discussion: A key feature of a high quality health system is appropriate infrastructure, including reliable, bright lighting and electricity. Rigorous evidence on the role of a reliable light source in maternal and newborn care is needed to accelerate the "electrification" of maternity facilities across sub-Saharan Africa. This study will be the first to rigorously assess the extent to which reliable light is an important driver of the quality of care experienced by women and newborns.

Trial registration: : NCT03589625 (July 18, 2018); : AEARCTR-0003078 (dated June 16, 2018).

Keywords: Electricity; Infrastructure; Maternal health; Newborn health; Quality of care; Solar energy; Stepped wedge cluster randomized trial; Uganda.

Publication types

  • Clinical Trial Protocol

MeSH terms

  • Adult
  • Delivery of Health Care / methods*
  • Female
  • Health Facilities / standards*
  • Humans
  • Infant, Newborn
  • Lighting / methods*
  • Maternal-Child Health Services / standards*
  • Pregnancy
  • Quality Assurance, Health Care
  • Randomized Controlled Trials as Topic
  • Rural Health Services / standards*
  • Uganda

Associated data